Dogs don't get cavities the way humans do, but they do get plaque, tartar, and gingivitis — all of which can cause foul breath and tooth problems.
Trips to the doggie dentist can end up being costly, and your dog will have to be put under anesthesia, because no dog ever "opens wide" for any dentist or vet. There have been incidence where a dog put under for something as simple as teeth cleaning simply do not wake up. So if at all possible we try to avoid any unnecessary anesthesia. Here is a helpful graphic to get to know the names of the canine's teeth
The Home Checkup
Get in the habit of looking in your dog's mouth to check for broken or cracked teeth. Look especially closely at the very large forth tooth, called the canine (which looks like a fang) and the big molars in the back. If the canine doesn't have a sharp point or the molars are cracked or if you can see pulp tissue, the tooth can become infected, develop a big abscess, and even some swelling under the eyes. Contact a veterinary dentist as soon as possible.
Signs of Gum Disease
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Crusty white or yellowish build up along the gum line
- Foul breath
- Loose or missing teeth
Brush Your Dog's Teeth
You can prevent periodontal disease by eliminating plaque before it becomes tartar. The best way to do this is through the mechanical action of brushing your dog's teeth every few days. This reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth, which also has the added benefit of keeping your dog's breath smelling sweeter.
Brush your dog's teeth with toothpaste made for dogs. People toothpaste is designed for people to spit out. Dogs can't do that, so you need to use one that's safe for the dog to swallow.
Introducing a Toothbrush
Most dogs require some training and practice to allow you to brush their teeth, but if you perform brushing on a regular basis, most will become accustomed to it eventually. It is best to start the procedure with puppies, since they are easier to control. Gentle encouragement works best. One way of getting your dog used to a toothbrush is to take some garlic salt, mix it with water, and dip an old toothbrush into it. Hold the brush, and let your dog lick or chew the brush. The dog will realize that a toothbrush is good and that it tastes good. You can do this a few times so the dog won't be scared of the brushing process, and will let you brush daily. Hold your dog's mouth open and begin brushing along the gum line back near the molars, working your way forward to the incisors. Frequently rinse your brush in water as you go. We have found that an electric toothbrush with a round head works faster and better than the manual toothbrush.
Dogs' teeth touch only in one or two places, and their teeth are narrow. A toothbrush reaches 90% of the area that needs to be cleaned. The toothbrush doesn't always reach the teeth that are farthest back in the dog's mouth, but this is not the most important area. Chewing on a cotton rope bone can help clean those back teeth.
Instead of using a toothbrush, you can use a finger brush. A toothbrush is better, but a finger brush is a good alternative. It fits onto your fingertip and lets you brush your dog's teeth almost without your dog knowing it. The drawback of using a finger brush is that the bristles are a bit too large to get under the margin of the gum line as effectively as a regular toothbrush.
Using a simple dental instrument to help your dog fight the build up of tartar is a very wise investment in the oral health of your dog. A little effort now may save you hundreds of dollars later in dentistry bills. Some tools are double sided but regardless of the style what is important is that the head of the tool is flat, blunt and the scraper is perpendicular to the handle. Here is what the tool looks like. Cost of the tool is under $10.00. It is often called a 'Miller's Forge Stainless Steel Professional Single End Tooth Scaler'.
TO USE: Simply put the flat tool head just slightly above the gum line and scrape the teeth to remove the plaque. There may be some bleeding. Give your dog the opportunity to swallow after every few strokes as you remove the plaque. Look well into the back of the mouth as well for plaque buildup. If you see pulp tissue or black tooth roots chances are you are too late and a dentist will need to remove these teeth in the interest of the remaining health teeth and oral hygiene.
There are occasions that your dog's teeth and gums need to be cleaned by a professional. A veterinarian will anesthetize your dog, scrape all of the plaque buildup from above and below the gum line, and then polish the teeth.
The rule of thumb is not to let your dog chew on something that is harder than their teeth. The result of course is broken teeth. Safer chewing toys are those made of soft rope, or raw bones that are soft enough to provide the necessary chewing exercise without the possibility of breaking teeth. Cooked bones are NOT recommended since they don't easily digest and splinter when broken. Rawhide may be safe for chewing, but stay away from those that have knots in them, rather go for the rolled or flat ones. Undigested rawhide knots have been known to cause an intestinal blockage.
There are canine mouth sprays that work very well to help kill bacteria in the mouth and may actually heal damaged gum tissue. Ask your veterinarian about these products.
Certainly some foods contribute to plaque more than others. Generally, dry dog food helps keep the plaque level down. However, it helps only in the area that's visible, not in the important area just below the gum line. Raw meaty bones, like beef riblets or chicken carcasses, are an excellent natural way to fight tartar buildup. Always supervise dogs eating raw bones. Some dog biscuits can also reduce tartar, but again, only above the gum line. Brushing your dog's teeth does the best job of cleaning the important area below the gum line, where bacteria and plaque hide and can rot away the gums and bone.
There are a variety of bone-shaped therapeutic chew toy device for a dog consisting of a hard and tough material moulded in a form having sharp conically shaped spikes distributed over its surface. As the dog chews on the device, the spikes contact the various surfaces of the dog's teeth and gums and are of sufficient hardness to scrape off accumulated tartar and plaque.